When the term character actor is used in film discourse, Willem Dafoe is one of the most common actors to come to the collective mind of cinephiles. However, he is, and always has been, a leading man who simply isn’t deterred by the size, or lack thereof, of a given role to which he connects. The Wisconsin native could turn even the most seemingly banal character into something singularly mesmerizing. This intuition to excavate the humanity out of the roles he chooses is part of what makes Dafoe so effective as an actor. Perhaps it’s also what draws skillful auteurs like Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Lars von Trier, Abel Ferrara, Sam Raimi, and Oliver Stone back to him for memorable repeat collaborations. Whether as a character actor, leading man, or disembodied voice (Vox Lux), Dafoe remains one thing above all: A universally sought-after director’s actor.
One collaboration that evaded Dafoe for nearly three decades was that with legendary Argentinian filmmaker Hector Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman). It wasn’t until 2015 when the two longtime acquaintances finally made a film together with Babenco’s autobiographical My Hindu Friend – also titled My Last Friend – in which Dafoe plays a stand-in for the director during a particularly grim period in his life. My Hindu Friend is a thoughtful, honest exploration of death, life, cinema, and unlikely yet timely human connections. Shortly after the 2016 Montréal World Film Festival, Babenco passed away, delaying the film’s release nearly four years.
On the cusp of My Hindu Friend’s January 17, 2020 theatrical release, I spoke with Dafoe about his experience on Babenco’s final film, his aptitude for portraying real-life figures, the existential weight of death in cinema, The Lighthouse, the politics of the Oscars, and his storied career, including his collaborations with Anderson, Scorsese, and von Trier.
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If you don’t believe representation in horror cinema matters, go watch Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror. Despite countless walks of life stamping this vibrant earth with their signature footprints, movies – especially mainstream studio products – are largely populated by the same faces, genders, you name it. More importantly, when themes or characters step outside “normality,” creatives in charge generally aren’t living what they’re shooting. None of this is to suggest such situations are automatic failures – they aren’t – but authenticity and representation matters. Seeing your likeness on screen is one thing, but seeing yourself depicted in a connective way is a freedom everyone should be granted.
Enter Into The Dark’s Midnight Kiss, an enthusiastic gay slasher focusing on a homosexually-centered New Year’s nightmare. Written by Erlingur Thoroddsen, a proudly gay Hollywood writer, and directed by Carter Smith, an equally in-touch gay Hollywood director. While this shouldn’t be groundbreaking or noteworthy, one has to respect Hulu and Blumhouse for buying into an exclusively gay horror feature without restriction. This showing of commitment means something to so many viewers, which is why I wanted to ask both Smith and Thoroddsen about navigating Hollywood from a queer perspective. Here are some lessons they’ve learned while making death sexy and horror fabulous.
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In the roughly six or seven years since he made his remarkable feature film debut in Short Term 12 as the troubled teen Marcus, Lakeith Stanfield has been one of the hardest-working actors in show business, collaborating with a remarkable string of both well-known filmmakers and relative newcomers in both high-profile films and smaller, indie gems. Often he pops in for a choice supporting part and takes the movie away from the leads just enough to become unforgettable (just watch him in Jordan Peele’s Get Out as an example).
Since Short Term 12, Stanfield has shown up in The Purge: Anarchy, Selma, Dope, Straight Outta Compton, Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, Oliver Stone’s Snowden, and one of the finest films of 2018, Sorry to Bother You, as well as one finest in 2019, writer/director Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. But many know Stanfield best from his role as the hilarious stoner-savant Darius in creator Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta, which will begin shooting its third and fourth seasons back to back in the spring of 2020. He also has a new film coming out on Valentine’s Day 2020, the romantic-drama The Photograph, co-starring Issa Rae and Kelvin Harrison Jr.
/Film spoke with Stanfield recently to discuss his other entry in the Best Films of 2019 category, Uncut Gems, from directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie, in which Stanfield plays a jewelry hustler named Demany, who works closely with jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) by bringing in cash-flush celebrities (like Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett) into Ratner’s store to spend spend spend. As the film moves forward on its relentless course to self-destruction, Demany reveals layers to his personality and abilities that few actors beside Stanfield could handle as honestly and believably. Stanfield is a master of finding the right tone for his characters (which we talk about in our interview0, as can be witnessed by comparing the role he plays in Uncut Gems with the wildly different, more laid-back Lieutenant Elliott in Knives Out. Uncut Gems is currently in theaters nationwide.
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Joe Pantoliano, affectionately known as “Joey Pants” to many, wears his roles like few others from his generation. His breakout role was in 1983’s Risky Business, with the indelible role of “Guido the Pimp”, and from there he consistently made films and shows better with his very appearance. He often plays wise-cracking, quick-to anger characters bemused by the idiocy around him, and it’s this acerbic yet intelligent takes that leap off the screen. Midnight Run saw him spend much of the movie on the phone, while Bound and The Matrix solidified his working reputation with the Wachowskis. His take in Bad Boys continues into 2020, while his portrayal of Ralph Cifaretto in The Sopranos provided him with a truly iconic, immortal role that it’s near impossible to see any other actor portray.
His latest film, From the Vine, is the story about a man who leaves his career and his family to head to Italy and find himself, screened at the Whistler International Film Festival. It was there we got a chance to speak with the legendary actor. When he walked into the room he decided I looked somewhat like his therapist, so he lay on the couch, I pulled up a chair, and we began a conversation that felt more like a therapy session than a regular chat about a given project. It’s clear that he’s an actor that deeply thinks about the larger issues of his craft and career, yet he very much comes across as a survivor, one that has run the gauntlet of fame, addiction and the other trappings of this life and can reflect with a degree of wisdom that’s both earned and impossible to fake.
We began our conversation for /Film, of course, with talk of food.
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One doesn’t so much speak to Chelsea Peretti during an interview, rather you just kind of hold on and hope you can keep up. It’s clear the writer/stand-up/actor doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and from the moment we began speaking it felt like a test. We were in Whistler, British Columbia for the Word Premiere of Andrea Dorfman’s film Spinster, which follows Gaby, a woman who is coming to terms with finding happiness outside of having a relationship, and leaning into the notion of not needing to follow the social pressures of both companionship and child bearing. It’s a bittersweet film, and Peretti’s unique comic tone provides the film it’s balance that leans towards understanding and empathy without it ever feeling cloying or forced.
Peretti’s career spans work as a writer for shows like Parks and Recreation, long term collaborations with schoolmate Andy Samberg on Brookyn Nine-Nine playing fan favourite Gina Linetti and a brief cameo in the exceptional Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, to years as a stand-up comic and contributor to major publications. The polymath continues to stretch, and like her partner Jordan Peele, she continues to stretch her talents in ways that go well beyond the world of comedy television.
/Film spoke to Peretti and her latest role, about working with Dorfman and her crew in Eastern Canada, and what book this half-Italian, half-Jewish scribe sarcastically wishes she had written.
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For more than two decades, Simon Pegg has firmly established himself as a performer of extraordinary range. Though known by many for his roles in blockbusters like Mission Impossible and Star Trek, as well as his beloved collaborations with Edgar Wright, he’s appeared in a wide range of projects, from early roles in Band of Brothers, voice work on Ice Age: Collision Course and Boxtrolls, to indie films like Run Fatboy Run or Hector and the Search for Happiness.
His latest film, Lost Transmissions, premiered at Tribeca and received its Canadian debut at the Whistler International Film Festival. Written and directed by Katherine O’Brien, it’s the story of Theo Ross (Pegg), a record producer who befriends Hannah (Juno Temple). Theo suffers from schizophrenia, and when he refuses to take his medication at the same time that Hannah removes herself from her own anti-depressant regimen things go majorly awry. The role requires a great deal of commitment from Pegg, riding the edge of a person out of control but still engendering sympathy. It’s a fine, nuanced take, one that may well surprise and impress fans who know him more from his broader takes in the bigger hits.
/Film spoke with Pegg at length about him choosing such a role, and it’s clear he feels a strong affinity for the project. We also spoke about the fan community that he’s both a part of and serving them content, and of course delved into the controversy surrounding the divide between art, commerce, cinema and “theme park rides”.
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The path to Julia Fox‘s on-screen acting debut in Uncut Gems took her through a myriad of other successful creative endeavors, including art, photography, fashion design, writing, and even recently directing her first short film, Fantasy Girls. Fox first became well known in her native New York City for being something of an “It girl” on the club/party scene, and it was during that time in her life, nearly 10 years ago, that she became friendly with brothers and struggling filmmakers Josh and Bennie Safdie, who were developing a script set in the city’s diamond district which focused on a fast-talking jeweler named Howard Ratner, a degenerate gambler and a man who enjoys the thrill of risk more than the actual rewards it may bring.
The Safdies wrote the character of Julia for Fox, and through the many iterations of both the screenplay and the cast, Fox has remained the one constant in the production – but she still had to fight for the role and prove she could play the part of Howard’s mistress. Uncut Gems took many years to get off the ground (the brothers made their breakthrough movies Heaven Knows What and Good Time in the meantime), and when the Safdies’ first choice to play Howard, Adam Sandler, finally agreed to make the film, things fell into place fairly quickly. Fox was ready, and she’s absolutely electric as the charming, manipulative, and irresistible Julia, in a movie that feels like the cinematic equivalent of a panic attack and also happens to be one of the best of the year.
/Film spoke with with Fox recently about her long road to overnight success, how much of herself (past and present versions) she put into the Julia character, what she learned about acting from working so closely with Sandler, and the free-floating directing style that the Safdie brothers adopted to make the film both tense and funny. Read More »
1917‘s seemingly death-defying camera work from master cinematographer (and recent Oscar winner) Roger Deakins is extraordinary as it moves through varying terrains in the guise of a single take, with no place to hide lights (he’s working in natural light most of the time). The result is a powerful antiwar statement couched in a tense and emotionally gripping work, as the camera seems to hover around the action as both a ghostly observer and a character in the trenches with the film’s leads.
1917 comes courtesy of director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall, Revolutionary Road) and his co-writer (and rising talent) Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the Penny Dreadful veteran who has also co-written Edgar Wright’s next movie, the horror-thriller Last Night in Soho. /Film spoke with Mendes and Wilson-Cairns in Chicago recently to discuss the intricate process of mapping out the geographic journey of the movie’s two lead actors and how that impacted every other phase of the production, the emotional immediacy of making a film appear to occur in real time, and why the project was a deeply personal one for Mendes.
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The World War I epic 1917 is so much more than the sum of its single-take gimmick. The film is the story of two brave Lance Corporals — Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, from Blinded by the Light and Game of Thrones) and Schofield (George MacKay, of Captain Fantastic and Ophelia), who make an arduous and tense trek across what is supposed to be one active battlefield after another. The two young British soldiers are asked to deliver a message to the front line of a battle that is expected to launch the following morning. The message is meant to stop the 1,600 troops from charging into a trap that will result in the massacre of most of the men, one of whom is Blake’s brother. Along their journey, the pair stumble upon what is essentially the totality of the war experience at the time — when men with guns on horses were just beginning to be replaced by massively destructive tanks. As a result, the film gets more unbearably immediate with each passing minute.
This outstanding technical and heartfelt achievement comes courtesy of director/co-writer Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall, Revolutionary Road), who rehearsed both the geographic and emotional beats more like a stage play than a film where editing can be used to hide mistakes or combine the best parts of multiple takes. But by constructing 1917 to look like a single take, many of his directing tools were stripped away, leaving only the performances to carry the weight of this devastating story.
/Film spoke with stars Chapman and MacKay in Chicago recently to discuss how they made personal connections to a World War I story, the months-long rehearsal process that was required to pull off the single-take appearance of the film, and remembering the emotional heart of the story as well as their choreographed movement.
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1917 is a masterful piece of craftsmanship. Sam Mendes‘ one-shot epic takes a forward-thinking approach to its depiction of World War I, which is an almost apocalyptic vision. It’s a rare vision, too, in which the camerawork and technique are noticeable yet don’t detract from the experience. To write the ambitious war movie, Mendes called Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who was a writer on the Mendes-produced Penny Dreadful and recently co-wrote Edgar Wright’s next film, Last Night in Soho.
Over the last few years, Mendes and Wilson-Cairns collaborated and wrote a handful of scripts together, but for one reason or another, they never became movies. After what they’ve accomplished with 1917, we can only imagine what they could’ve done together sooner. They aimed high and didn’t miss their target on this one. Recently, Wilson-Cairns told us about the earliest ideas for 1917, influential war poetry, and the advantages of writing a one-shot movie. [Warning: this Q&A contains spoilers.]
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